In a series of moves announced Monday, the Hurricanes also hired Mike Vellucci as assistant GM and director of hockey operations and promoted Brian Tatum to assistant general manager.
The 65-year-old Rutherford spent two decades as the club's GM, and helped shepherd its move from Hartford to North Carolina.
He assembled the teams that won one Stanley Cup, played for another and reached the Eastern Conference final in 2009. The Hurricanes haven't made the playoffs since then.
Francis holds team records with 382 goals, 793 assists and 1,186 games played. He has been the team's vice-president of hockey operations since June 2012.
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